UK PM Sunak faces questions over wife Akshata’s Infosys shares in FTA with India: Report

London: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak could face some transparency questions related to wife Akshata Murty’s Infosys shares, worth an estimated 500 million pounds, in a proposed free trade agreement (FTA) with India, according to a media report.

‘The Observer’ claims the Opposition Labour Party and trade experts are questioning the full financial impact as Infosys, the Bengaluru-headquartered software service major co-founded by Akshata’s father Narayana Murthy, stands to benefit from any such trade deal.

India and the UK have been negotiating an FTA, now in its 12th round of negotiations, as Sunak prepares for his first visit to India as British Prime Minister for the G20 Leaders’ Summit next month.

“As the Prime Minister recently learned, it’s important he declares any interests properly. I expect him to do so in respect of the India trade deal too,” said Darren Jones, Labour MP and chair of the cross-party House of Commons Business and Trade Select Committee – which has been scrutinising the FTA talks.

Earlier this week, the UK parliamentary watchdog released its report into an inquiry concluding that Sunak had inadvertently failed to correctly declare his wife’s shares in childminding firm Koru Kids that stood to benefit from the government’s budget policy. The 43-year-old British Indian leader apologised for the “inadvertent” breach that arose “out of confusion”, and the matter was closed.

According to the ‘Observer’ report, Infosys – which has had contracts with the British government as well as many UK companies – is known to want to improve access to the UK for its thousands of contract workers through changes to the visa regime. Allowing more visas for its workers in sectors such as IT and artificial intelligence (AI) is claimed to be a “key Indian demand in the talks”.

The newspaper claims that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has even warned the Business and Trade Select Committee against conducting a trip to India in the coming months to examine issues around a potential deal.

“The committee was advised by the government that it would be better to visit India next year instead of during sensitive trade negotiations,” committee chair Jones told the newspaper.

Shadow trade secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said while his party backed a trade deal with India, it is important that Sunak is “transparent about any relevant business links and his personal role in negotiations”.

Alan Manning, a professor of economics at the London School of Economics, told the newspaper that because software services are one of India’s biggest export sectors, India will naturally be looking for opportunities to grow them in their trade deals.

“As the Prime Minister’s family may have a direct financial interest in any deal on immigration, he should recuse himself from this part of the negotiations to avoid any perception of conflict of interest,” said Manning.

Meanwhile, The Sunday Times reports that India is prepared to cut tariffs on Scotch whisky and British cars and parts by at least a third if the UK is prepared to slash its workers’ tax to clinch an FTA.

According to reports, New Delhi is pushing London to sign a social security agreement similar to deals it has signed with countries, including Canada, Australia and France, that could exempt Indian workers from social security contributions if they continue to make payments in India.

“The social security agreement is a very important thing for us. It creates a lot of ill will if folks have to surrender a significant amount of their savings,” the newspaper quoted an Indian source as saying.

The reports come as UK Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch held bilateral talks with her counterpart, Piyush Goyal, in India during a visit for a G20 trade meet this week. Goyal said they discussed ways to “add further momentum” to the India-UK FTA negotiations for a “mutually beneficial deal”.